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Traditional African drums welcomed students, faculty, trustees, and guests to a ceremony to dedicate The Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed at McDonogh School on the morning of Tuesday, April 19. The Memorial was created by accomplished multidisciplinary artist and retired faculty member Oletha DeVane.
“This is a significant occasion in our School’s history. It is the culmination of one journey and the beginning of another— one that will be ongoing,” said Head of School Dave Farace ‘87 in his welcoming remarks.
He explained that some 17 years ago, now retired second-grade teacher Nancy Lewis and a committee of faculty wanted to find a way to recognize and honor the enslaved people of John McDonogh, whose forced labor built his wealth—the wealth that many years later was used to create McDonogh School.
“McDonogh is an institution that remembers, and it is our moral imperative to honor and remember the enslaved people whose labor made our school possible,” Farace said. “It is also our responsibility to acknowledge the past and embrace the complex lessons that our history teaches us so that you, and future generations of students, have a complete picture.”
Referencing the journey to creating the memorial, Farace spoke about the future saying, “The road to the creation of this meaningful space has ended, but the path to understanding goes on. This memorial offers countless opportunities for reflection and learning. In the weeks, months, and years ahead, I hope that everyone in our school community will spend time here and remember those whose forced labor paved the way for each one of us to make a positive difference in the world.”
After Farace’s remarks, Chrystina Bennett ‘22 read an excerpt from Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird and DeVane shared her artistic journey. She said, “The process of creating is a deeply spiritual one. It is my way to gather stories, make memories, and visualize the past history for future generations to contemplate.”
DeVane continued, “The Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed is meant to make the lives of Black people who were enslaved by John McDonogh visible. The people whose names are on the wall were laborers, teachers, ministers, healers, farmers, and children who we now know and acknowledge. They were part of the nation’s wealth-building and will no longer be silenced. The memorial represents the collective journey to embrace the contributions and the lives of many individuals—their achievement, resistance, and spiritual resilience came at a high cost in the moral darkness of America.”
DeVane’s remarks were followed by a wreath-laying by Alumni Association President Joshua Thomas ’06 and Student Government President Sydney Smith ‘22. Next, retired faculty member Efia Dalili led a traditional libation ceremony—a sacred tradition in which the pouring of water is an offering to ancestors and honors those who have passed away.
The program continued with the reading of the names of enslaved men, women, and children now etched on the memorial walls. The names were read by original committee members Curtis Adams ‘84, John Grega, and Nancy Lewis, as well as President of the Alumni Association Josh Thomas ‘06 and SGA President Sydney Smith ‘22. Drummers from the Baltimore-based Urban Foli punctuated each person’s name as a chapel bell tolled. Bridget Collins, The Charles W. Britton Director of Character and Service, shared the African proverb that states ‘As long as you speak my name, I shall live forever.’ She added, “Today, we call their names, ensuring that their memory will live on in our hearts.”
Preston W, ‘26, Madison W. ‘30, Flynn Mason ‘22, and Dee Drummond ‘92 then came forward and recited New Day’s Lyric by Amanda Gorman.
Collins concluded the ceremony by saying, ”May the tolling of the bell give us peace in knowing that we are a community that remembers. We remember, not just for the sake of yesterday, but to take on tomorrow.”
Learn more about The Memorial to Those Enslaved and Freed on McDonogh’s website and in an article published in The Baltimore Sun.